The Christ the King statue stands in an elevated position in Moran Park, opposite dlr LexIcon, the main public library and cultural centre of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County. The statue was first designed by American-Irish sculptor Andrew O’Connor (1874-1941) in 1925 and it depicts three aspects of Christ’s life – desolation, consolation and triumph.
Image 1: Christ the King, Moran Park, Dún Laoghaire, 2017 (dlr Local Studies Collection).
In 2015, dlr LexIcon’s Local Studies Department received a generous donation of an archive relating to the Christ the King sculpture. The collection of documents was created by the Christ the King committee and it provides a full and comprehensive record of their activities as well as the chequered history of the sculpture. Founded in 1931, the committee comprised clerical and lay members of the Dún Laoghaire community. The mission of the committee was to select a monument celebrating the Feast of Christ the King and to find a suitable site for its installation in the local area. Following the selection of O’Connor’s design, the Committee issued a booklet seeking subscriptions to fund its casting in bronze and detailing plans for the location.
Image 2: Circular letter appealing for subscriptions to the ‘National Monument to Christ the King’, c. 1932 (Christ the King Collection).
Christ the King was cast in France during the early 1930s. The outbreak of the Second World War delayed its delivery to Ireland and the sculpture was finally transported in 1949. The statue immediately divided opinion and met with strong opposition. The parish priest of Dún Laoghaire objected to its erection in the locality and installation was deferred indefinitely. John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin, became involved in the debate and had the three-ton statue brought to the Archbishop’s House in Drumcondra where it was set up for examination. McQuaid was unimpressed by the fact that he had not been approached by either the artist or the organising committee and he dismissed the statue.
Image 3: First page of letter sent to Christ the King Committee from John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin, 7 April 1951. McQuaid notes ‘it interests me to learn that the monument as designed and cast was never approved nor even commissioned by your Committee’ (Christ the King Collection).
In 1951, with no resolution in sight, the sculpture was removed for safe keeping to the back garden of Edward J. Kenny, a member of the committee, off Rochestown Avenue in Dún Laoghaire. It would remain there for nearly thirty years.
Image 4: Photograph from The Irish Times showing Christ the King at Rochestown Avenue, c. 1970 (Christ the King Collection).
During the 1960s, as local support increased and clerical opposition to the statue softened, arrangements were made to establish a permanent home for O’Connor’s work. Despite numerous requests to purchase or exhibit the statue, the trustees for the monument refused to let the sculpture leave the Dún Laoghaire area. In 1976, the Borough of Dún Laoghaire approved the trustees’ proposal for the erection of Christ the King in Dún Laoghaire. Haigh Terrace, overlooking the sea, was selected as the final agreed site for the sculpture and it was finally unveiled in 1978, nearly fifty years after it was cast.
Image 5: Newspaper headline announcing the unveiling of Christ the King statue at Dún Laoghaire, 16 December 1978 (Christ the King Collection).
In 2012, the statue was removed from Haigh Terrace to facilitate construction of dlr LexIcon. Christ the King underwent restoration work and was relocated to a prominent site on the western end of Moran Park in 2014.
Image 6: The official unveiling of Christ the King, Dún Laoghaire, 1978 (Christ the King Collection).
The Christ the King Collection is housed in dlr LexIcon Local Studies and is available to researchers by appointment. The archive was catalogued, preserved, digitised and exhibited at dlr LexIcon in collaboration with UCD School of History MA class in Archives and Records Management (2015-16).
For more information on the Christ the King Collection, search www.iar.ie
If you are interested in this collection or any others held by dlr LexIcon, please contact the Archivist at firstname.lastname@example.org
David Gunning, Archivist at dlr Lexicon, Moderator at Irish Archives Resource